I always knew I wanted to write. When I was in elementary school I wanted to be an author and newspaper editor. Then, in middle school, after opening my first issue of Seventeen magazine, my heart skipped a beat and I was determined to become an editor-in-chief of a magazine.
Throughout middle school and high school I did everything within my power to make that dream a reality. I created two issues of my own magazine, served as the editor-in-chief of the high school newspaper and yearbook and even had the opportunity to contribute to some of my favorite magazines, including CosmoGirl! and YM. But I also knew I needed to add newspaper writing to my clips portfolio.
The editor-in-chief of the high school paper before me had a gig penning articles for the paper, so I wanted to follow in her footsteps and do the same. I was talking about this one night at my movie theatre job, and my good friend, Carrie, told me there was an opportunity to cover the races at Mission Valley Speedway, our local track.
I was instantly intimidated. I knew nothing about racing. But, since I had covered high school basketball a time or two, I felt like I could at least give it a shot.
The next weekend I was at the track, and I was instantly sucked in. There was something about the smell of burnt rubber mixed with hot dogs, the colorful cars circling the track under the lights, the magnetic pull of my eyes to the pole and, of course, the cars going faster than I had ever dared and the wrecks drivers magically seemed to escape from.
This passion was taken to another level when I had the chance to interview the drivers post-race in the pits. These weren’t your typical high school players who I had math class with and who gave me quotes about a solid team effort. No, these were men my dad’s age, sweaty, swearing … and eager to talk to me. Why? After one nasty accident two drivers with different opinions on the wreck wanted their story told. As I was writing the story that week, even though it was more like a race roundup and nothing as in-depth as what you’d see on Fox Sports, I felt like I had a story to tell. And I knew I had found the setting for those stories.
Around the same time another good friend of mine and Carrie’s named Heidi was staying at our house. I looked up to both of these girls. They always treated me like I was on their level, even though I was years younger. And they both had the same passion for Mission Valley Speedway, and both worked there. Heidi would convince my parents that we had to watch the NASCAR races on TV. And suddenly Dad and Mom were into it, too.
Fulfilling a Childhood Dream
After graduating college my early dream of becoming a magazine editor became real. At 22 years old, I was the youngest-ever editor-in-chief of the Montanan, the alumni magazine at The University of Montana, with more than 83,000 readers. For three years, I poured myself into this publication. My last issue was a glossy paper copy of the vision I had set out to create for our readers, and UM, three years earlier. I knew my time had come to go to the next step of my career. I loved the magazine, but interviewing so many successful alums, people who were leading Nike’s product and merchandising, designing the sets of shows like “Friends” and “Two and a Half Men” and starting Google offices in India, had changed me. I wanted to follow my passion in a bigger way so I could one day count myself among their company and inspire others like they had inspired me.
This meant taking a leap into social media, which was emerging in a big way throughout my tenure at the magazine. Through an alumni connection, who ended up later becoming my boss, I was offered a job as a digital strategist at WDCW, an advertising agency in LA. Switching industries was one of the scariest, and smartest, things I ever did. (More about that in a future blog post.)
I had many incredible opportunities while at WDCW — from creating a social media strategy for one of the largest names in sports to ghostwriting and placing articles in major media outlets about the importance of vaccination. I even pitched one of the largest quick service restaurants … on TV no less (AMC will air it this spring in a forthcoming show after “Mad Men”), and got a dream assignment of flying out to Detroit to collect insights for the re-launch of a major automotive brand. Growing up, I had never thought advertising would be a dream job of mine, but it grew to be. And beyond the sexy and not-so-sexy clients, it was all about the team I worked with and the leadership skills I acquired through the job. The leadership team at the agency is among the finest of any I’ve ever seen, and they led by example, mentoring me and giving me just enough rope to hang myself or tie a knot that would help me survive.
My colleagues also, quickly, realized I had another passion. Yes, this girl who always had a new “it” color on her nails and carried electric pink bags was into NASCAR. And despite being an office of around 60 to 70 people and working with guys who write the College GameDay commercials for ESPN, I was the solo NASCAR fan. And on more than one occasion I stated it was my goal to somehow bring a piece of NASCAR-affiliated business to the agency. After all, I wanted to fuse my passion and my career.
The Seed That I Kept Watering
Before I even thought of working in advertising, I was home one weekend watching a NASCAR race. I was tweeting with a fever because I hadn’t gone home to see my parents that weekend and had nobody to watch the race with. But I found a community in Twitter. And one day, for some reason that still feels kismet, the then-director of marketing communications at International Speedway Corporation, Lenny, started following my Twitter account. I instantly sent him a direct message and asked if he’d be willing to let me pick his brain about how to get a job in the sport. He said yes.
We had a phone call a few days later, and he gave me some incredible advice in that call. While a lot of it was standard information about where to find jobs in NASCAR, what tracks look for when hiring someone, what types of jobs exist in the sport, etc., he told me he would help me however he could and to send him my resume. There were no jobs working for him at the time, and to be frank, deep down I didn’t feel I had the right experience just yet. But Lenny became more than just someone who granted me an informational interview; he became a mentor whose advice I valued, and above all, trusted.
When I left UM to work at WDCW I also had another job opportunity at a PR firm in Portland. I sought Lenny’s advice on the situation, asking which would be better for an eventual career in NASCAR. When I moved to LA and suddenly found myself within driving distance of four tracks, I knew I had to meet my mentor in real life and pick his brain on a deeper level now that I had a more in-depth knowledge of the sport and business in general. In one whirlwind, less-than-24-hour drive to Las Vegas, I met with Lenny and other members of the ISC team who were in town for Champion’s Weekend. I got to know people’s names. I asked questions. I shared my love of the sport and opinion on its social strategies, and I left Vegas knowing more people in the sport who were willing to stay in touch. Many of those people are now friends. They’ve introduced me to other people. They’ve given me pit passes for races. They’ve followed me on Twitter, which gave me a little more cred in the sport, and slowly other people within the industry who I followed began to follow me.
I made sure I stayed in touch with everyone I met at the track. I made sure to always send thank you notes when they went out of their way for me. I wanted the relationships to be mutually beneficial, so I would offer up social media advice where I could.
The Seed That Turned Into a Flower
Last November I was at one of the last races of the season at Phoenix International Raceway. And it was in Victory Lane where I met the track’s then-consumer marketing manager, Kristie, through a mutual friend who not only had a Montana connection (+1), but who also told me about a few openings at the track. That night at dinner I talked to my best friend and my guy friend. They told me I had to apply. I was happy at my job, but they knew — and I knew — that this was something I had to pursue.
Another whirlwind trip to Las Vegas for Champion’s Week, a few phone calls and a trip to Phoenix later, and I knew I wanted this job more than anything else I had pursued up until this point in my life. The team felt like a fit. My future boss has every quality I look for in a leader. Obviously the industry was a fit. I just was hoping I would be offered the right position that challenged me and where I could grow and really lend my skill set to not only raising the bar for the track, but setting it, too. That call came while I was in Detroit for the agency. Being around my favorite automotive company all week, made me even hungrier to be a part of the sport I loved. And now, I’m writing this post from my new apartment in Phoenix, and tomorrow I start my job as consumer marketing manager at Phoenix International Raceway.
This long blog post is to say that you can make your dream job become a reality. But, first, you need to conquer three areas to the best of your abilities:
1 / Networking — It’s not a dirty word like many people think. It’s about building relationships with people, which is something we do every day. Then it’s about thanking these people, staying in touch with them and providing value to them where you can. And never underestimate the power of Twitter. It’s where all of my strongest connections in the sport began. And the access it provides is unmatched – yes, even over LinkedIn.
2 / Cutting Your Teeth — I didn’t work in NASCAR right out of college. I pursued one dream job and it led me to another. Each job I took along the way taught me business and communication skills that have made me who I am today. I was fortunate in that every job I’ve held, I’ve felt like I’ve been the luckiest girl ever. But I’ve also worked my ass off in each position, never settling for “good enough.”
3 / Passion — Get to know the industry you want to be in intimately. Look for holes in strategies, successes likely to be repeated, and look at similar industries for inspiration. I feel like I bring a unique skill set to the table at the track because I have a background in advertising. Also, go where the industry is. I was at every NASCAR race I could go to in a season. And at each race I learned many new things, met many new people and grew my understanding of the moving parts of the sport. Most importantly, I realized it actually was a fit for me, which is crucial for happiness in any job.
I know you can do this, too. And if you ever need encouragement or want to pick the brains of someone in your dream industry, our team is always here via email (iwantherjob[at]gmail[dot]com) or on Twitter.
And I hope you enjoy this week. Last fall before I knew my current job was even a possibility, I decided I wanted to share my favorite sport with all of you. So, I began working on developing NASCAR Week leading up to the biggest event in the sport, the Daytona 500, which takes place this weekend. Coincidentally, it’s also the week I’m beginning my dream job in the sport. Thanks for reading my story, and I can’t wait to introduce you to the phenomenal women who make NASCAR the best sporting event for fans that there is. And keep dreaming; the job I’m about to embark on is proof those dreams do come true.